N.K. Jemisin is one of our great futurists, a three-time Hugo Award winner whose world-building skills are breathtaking.
Yet even Jemisin could not have predicted what’s going on right now.
“I can’t write anything as absurd as what we’ve been living these last few years,” she said.
Like one of her characters, though, Jemisin is adapting to the new world around her. As quickly as she can.
Originally scheduled to appear at Elliott Bay Book Company as part of a national book tour for her new novel, “The City We Became,” Jemisin is now conducting the tour stop from her home in Brooklyn via webcast on Wednesday (tickets are sold out).
It’s a compromise Jemisin is comfortable with.
“I am a giant, raging introvert, so this is fine,” Jemisin said.
It’s also a peek at what the new reality will be for writers in the post-coronavirus world. There will be fewer resources for writers and artists and musicians going forward, at least for some time, and how they adapt will determine how much success they have in that new paradigm.
“A lot of other writers are rapidly retooling into online content providers more than anything else,” Jemisin said. “I was just talking to a fellow writer this morning who was complaining. She’s got a debut right around now, too. She was talking about the fact that she just heard that cases of her books are not being imported from China because of this pandemic. Her book is selling, there are orders for it, but the actual product cannot come. These kinds of things are sort of a nightmare scenario for anybody whose income depends on book sales.”
Many bookstores are closed, by order or by financial straits, and/or are laying off staff as well. The economy is likely headed toward recession or worse, and long-term consumer spending will be down. It doesn’t take a futurist to see what’s coming.
“We will be in danger if our only retail outlet is Amazon because Amazon has proven itself, you know, not the best monopoly to have in place,” Jemisin said. “It’s possible that other venues or avenues will construct themselves because people will always be creative and express it. They will always be producing content, and the nation is hungry for that content right now. People need escapism. They need stress relief. They need distraction from the literal hellish existence that we’re in right now. And so that will always exist. What will change is how we deliver it.”
“The City We Became” is a ray of light in this dark and gloomy moment. After finishing her transcendent postapocalyptic masterpiece, the “Broken Earth” trilogy — each book won that year’s Hugo Award, an amazing feat — Jemisin said she wanted to write something more lighthearted.
The new novel, released last week, is the first in a trilogy about New York as a living, breathing creature that’s finally taking its place among the mythical pantheon of great cities, both ancient and new. It opens with the city’s new avatar taking control for the first time and quickly morphs into a fantasy team-up, with characters representing the five boroughs joining a fight against an ancient evil.
“The City We Became” was completed two years ago, so it’s not of this moment. But Jemisin sees some parallels to her themes and what’s happening in her city, the hardest hit in the United States by the coronavirus outbreak.
“I see this as the soul of the city flexing,” Jemisin said. “This is one of the things I am actually proud of right now. I’m not a fan of New York’s governor, but New York’s governor and mayor right now are actually showing some of the leadership that we need as a society in order to try and deal with this. This is what New York has been.
“I see signs all over my neighborhood of people saying, ‘Hey, if you are shut in or can’t get to the grocery store, I have a bike. I’m willing to help you. Just text me at blah, blah, blah.’ This is New York. This is the necessity of living in a city. We all start acting like communities and people because we have to.”